Richard Ford
The Lay of the Land.
Knopf, 496 pages, $26.95

As Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote in “Manners” in 1844:

I have seen an individual whose manners, though wholly within the conventions of elegant society, were never learned there, but were original and commanding … one who did not need the aid of a court-suit, but carried the holiday in his eye … who shook off the captivity of etiquette, with happy, spirited bearing, good-natured and free as Robin Hood; yet with the port of an emperor, if need be,—calm, serious, and fit to stand the gaze of millions.

These words describe Richard Ford’s character. That’s not to say his temperament: He may be touchy, petulant, egomaniacal, fit to stand nobody’s gaze. He did, after all, spit in Colson Whitehead’s face in payback for a hostile review. Ford’s wife shot...


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